HBOT and Stroke Recovery
In order to understand how and why hyperbaric oxygen (oxygen under pressure) can help a patient recovering from a stroke it helps to first understand how hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) works. If you have not read the blog post titled “HBOT: How Does It Work?” please refer to that before you continue on.
The damage caused by stroke typically impacts several zones of the brain: The initial zone where the actual hemorrhage or ischemia occurred and then a zone surrounding that area that will typically become dormant or inactive. This secondary zone is affected primarily due to a loss of blood flow and therefore loss of oxygen to the tissue in question.
This dormant tissue results from a combination of blood vessel damage, decreased blood flow and surrounding inflammation depriving the brain of enough oxygen to complete its typical functions. Without the ability to nourish it with oxygen and remove cellular waste (carbon dioxide) this are of brain tissue needs to effectively shut down.
At the initial onset of a stroke, the goal is to improve blood flow, unblock any occlusions, stop any excess bleeding and return cerebral blood flow to as close to normal as quickly as possible to minimize the size of these zones and therefore the damage done by the stroke itself. Unfortunately for most stroke patients, once the initial crisis is under control, the only modality offered is physical rehabilitation (physical and/or occupational therapy) to try recovering as much function as possible but not much more is offered and little or nothing done to help the actual brain itself to heal.
This is where HBOT can step in. Oxygen under pressure has the ability to super saturate the damaged tissue with oxygen. The reason again for some of the damage and most of the dormant portion of brain tissue post stroke is loss of oxygen. If we can continue to help reduce the amount of swelling, and then provide very high levels of oxygen, enough to provide not only what is needed for normal function, but more importantly higher levels, enough to help promote healing, we can shrink the size of these damaged zones. How far can we shrink them? What symptoms are going to get better and in what order will they improve? We really do not know that answers to those questions. All we know is that if you can expose these patients to higher levels of oxygen, they can heal. As they heal, they will see an improvement in their symptoms and improvement in their overall ability to function and have an improved quality of life. Ease of movement, less spasm, improved cognition, improved vision, improved speaking ability, improved memory are all common improvements seen using Hyperbaric oxygen post stroke.